By Timothy Durham
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When softball runs in the family, you're expected to play softball. Luckily for Amber Garza, current sophomore member of the Texas A&M softball team, she's pretty good at it.
"I started playing softball when I was four," Garza said. "My older sister started playing, so that's what got me into it. I really wasn't into it for a long time, but as I got older and met more friends, I decided to stick with it."
Coached by her father, Pete Garza, as she was growing up in Missouri City, Texas, Amber looked to her older sister Alyssa to learn about softball. Although the two sisters are five years apart, they were able to play one year together on the same softball team.
"I got to play with her during my 8th grade year," Garza said. "She was a senior, I wasn't even a freshman yet. My sister was pretty hard on me when it came to softball. My dad was hard on me too, but made me into the player I am."
The year after the two sisters played together for the first and final time, Amber went to high school. In high school, Amber was a three-year letterwinner, was the 2007 UIL 23-5A Newcomer of the Year and was a National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American. Needless to say, she caught the eye of some NCAA DI programs.
But choosing to attend and play for Texas A&M wasn't based on just playing softball, Amber said.
"My Dad's cousin graduated from the veterinary school at A&M, so of course it's in the family," Garza said. "Jamie Hinshaw went to Elkins and played with my sister, so I grew up watching her play. She's one of my favorite players. And then when I met Coach Evans, I like her whole mentality about the game."
Hinshaw, a former standout and All-American at Texas A&M, played at the same high school that Amber attended.
A&M head coach Jo Evans said that she first spotted Garza when she was at a hitting clinic in her ninth grade year. With dozens of young athletes there, she immediately recognized Garza as a standout.
"At the end of the day I asked my players if they saw anyone who had a swing that they liked," Evans said. "After the day, I told them that the best swing at the camp was Amber Garza. Some people just have it at a young age - Amber definitely did."
Her freshman year as an Aggie was a memorable one. The Aggies came together after a rough start to the season to host an NCAA regional tournament against Sacred Heart University, Louisiana State University and Syracuse University.
During the regional, Garza hit a grand slam in two back-to-back games against Syracuse and Sacred Heart. Garza said that she had never done anything like that before.
"Those grand slams were a lot of fun," Garza said. "I was just really seeing the ball well those two games. I had a lot of confidence going into that regional, just working hard off the field and on the field. I had a few grand slams in high school, but nothing like having one in two games in a row."
Later that weekend, Amber hit a ninth inning single against LSU in the final game of the regional to give the Aggies a 3-1 victory over the Tigers and advance her team through to face the No. 1 seed Florida State in the 2011 Super Regional.
"I wouldn't trade freshman year for anything," Garza said. "I felt like it was nerve-wracking because every game, every at-bat, I was nervous. My teammates and the seniors, they helped me a lot. (Former A&M first baseman) Rhi Kliesing really helped me a lot on the field, every game telling me to look out for this pitch and that kind of thing."
Evans said that Garza's performance in the regional her freshman year was clutch.
"We were in the regional against LSU and had our backs against the wall and she stepped up huge for us," Evans said. "Then going into the super regional, we were playing Arizona State, the No. 1 seed, and she gets up and hits a home run off of their All-American pitcher. Amber came through huge for us that season."
Evans also said that Garza is one of the hardest working players she's had the opportunity to coach.
"She's the one that you're going to see hitting off by herself off of a tee," Evans said. "If she feels like her swing isn't right, she'll make a trip home and spend a few days with her dad to work on it. She's a coaches' kid and definitely a hard worker."
Although known to her coach as a hard-worker, Garza is known by fans as the third baseman with a gun for an arm.
During the A&M season, a organized group of former students called the "Sugar Daddys" attend every home game on the schedule. When Amber throws the ball across the diamond, the Sugar Daddys yell "BOOM!" in unison.
"Ever since I was young my dad was like, 'throw the ball hard,'" Garza said. "My sister and I would always practice together, and with her being older, she would throw harder and it would always hurt. I would always just try to throw that hard back at her. I guess that' how I learned to throw so hard."
Evans said that having a player with that kind of arm strength is a rarity.
"You rarely have a player that can throw the ball like that and so completely accurate," Evans said. "The first basemen have to get used to her because they're thinking "no big deal," and then here comes that rocket at their face. She's in the top one percent in people that can throw like that; she just has a cannon for an arm."
Amber said that she has high expectations for her second season as an Aggie. Coach Evans said that despite Amber's slow start this season and her working through minor injuries, she can see Amber getting into a groove.
"She has gotten off to a slow start with a few nagging injuries this year," Evans said. "But even now, I can see her getting comfortable again and starting to get in her rhythm. And it's a scary thing for pitchers across the nation when she gets comfortable."